Meet the CEO
We've all started our journey with video games somewhere. For some, an evening sleepover with no sleep but rather all-nighters on Call of Duty. For others, stumbling across a PC and landing on Minesweeper or 3D Pinball Space Cadet. For most, it began with an older sibling. It was an older brother that brought Michael "KnucklesUp" Vassos into the vast world of gaming.
"One of my earliest memories is discussing Pokémon Emerald with one of my older brothers, and that's where it all started. I can't tell you how many hours, days, weeks I've spent in front of a CRT TV during my childhood playing video games. I'd play Duck Hunt til I was able to shoot every bird without missing a shot. I'd play GTA San Andreas, without my parent's knowledge (perks of having older siblings), until I could figure out how to escape a 5-star rating. Hint, train tracks. But that was nothing until I came across Mario Party 6 for the Nintendo Gamecube."
As he tells it,
"I remember being around 4 years old. I was driving up north from Toronto, Canada. I was super sick, it was raining and began to storm. To sum it up, I threw up everywhere in my car, which is unlike me but that's the way it goes sometimes. I remember my Mom coming in so clutch when she looks to the back seat and sees my 5 siblings and I frowning and says the best words a young boy could hear. "Who wants to go to Walmart?" We all screamed of joy because, for us, Walmart meant "the video game section." My mom pushed me and my little brother in the cart while the other three walked and there we saw the cabinets full of beautiful game covers. The only catch, six kids and only one game to get. I'll never forget this. My siblings collectively decided to let me pick, no questions asked, because of my sickness. I was and still am very grateful. My eyes darted back and forth from cover to cover, console to console until I landed on my pride and joy, Mario Party 6. I still play this game religiously, 14 years later."
For Michael, purchasing the game that one gloomy day propelled him into his rudimentary phase of esports competition. "I can remember wanting to beat everyone so badly. Siblings, cousins, friends. It didn't matter who, you would bet that I'd crush them. I still don't know why I had this fire, but it was there, and no one could put it out."
While still playing video games his whole life, Michael never truly competed until his sophomore year of high school. Michael has described himself as "mediocre" at the Call of Duty series prior to the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (BO3). As he played his first games online he noticed a significant change. Michael had gone from a 0.8 Kill/Death ratio in previous games to a 2.9 Kill/Death ratio at the end of the BO3 cycle. This significant improvement led him to develop an interest in competitive gaming, as it was called at the time. Thus, his interest led him to start a team, The Onyx Clan (now known as Onyx eSports) to represent gamers in elite level play in BO3.
While the passion was always there, Michael acknowledges the downsides he faced during his 2015/16 year.
"I'm not going to lie about it, it was not all sunshine and rainbows. Let me be clear, I don't mean that the team was doing bad, oh no, no, no! As far as I'm concerned, we had a kick*ss team in BO3. Personally, I suffered through that year. I had a very rocky start to grade 10. A couple of moments turned me from the happy-go-lucky guy I usually am into someone who had a bleak outlook on life. It only took a few things to really send my life on a downward angle. Every aspect of my life suffered as a result. My grades dropped in some courses quite significantly, I opted out of socializing with almost every person I knew and I wasn't doing anything physically, so I gained weight. I used gaming as an outlet for what can only be described as a depression. It was dangerous and becoming addictive. At the time, competing was the only thing that made me truly happy. Getting an ace, capturing a flag, calling in a scorestreak, getting a win, everything felt amazing when I became "Prophet" and nothing felt fulfilling after I'd put down the controller."
°Prophet (AKA David Wilkes) is a specialist character from BO3 multiplayer series. His "glitch" ability was Michael's go to pick for almost every game mode when he competed.
After rebounding from his struggles, Michael moved from Call of Duty to a more lighthearted game that he grew up with, Super Smash Bros. The game's 2nd version, melee, is a household favorite in Michael's family. "It seemed like a natural progression. I switched from COD to smash in late summer of 2016. The positives were immediate and noticeable. The biggest change was certainly now playing for myself versus I team. I still kept Onyx going without me on the roster, but now I could focus my time on smash on my own schedule. It was freeing."
Michael began attending tournaments for the game Super Smash Bros for Wii U and his success was not as instant as COD.
"I got mucked in my first tournament, 0-2. It was a whole new ball game for me that I had to adapt to in order to be successful. Every day I'm still learning technical skills, frame information, all that jazz. The game has so much depth to it. It's more than fair to say that I've improved since then. I'm now proud to say that I have had some great placements including plenty of top 8s and a good amount of top 3s/wins, not to mention winning a ton of secondary level tournaments."
Michael (left) and his younger brother Nicholas (right) competing in Super Smash Bros for a league Michael started at his high school.
And now we arrive here at Bullpup Gaming. Michael had plenty of experience organizing tournaments and leading events from his high school. He started multiple esports leagues, within his school as well as competing against other schools. "After doing all the work at my school and starting something very successful there, I feel as if I'm meant to continue organizing. I love it. I created Bullpup with the intention of creating a positive community and for organizing high-quality tournaments for aspiring elite competitors, both for the experienced and newcomers."
"I love esports because it is truly a form of competition without limitation. You can be anyone, from anywhere and be a success. Not to mention it's one hell of a time. I wouldn't give up my experiences playing for anything."